Finally, the Calgary Flames have signed Oliver Kylington to his one-year qualifying offer deal. The team brought him back on a two-way deal valued at $787,500, which means Kylington will see a nearly $60,000 increase from him expired entry-level contract.
Not only did Kylington have to wait the longest to sign his deal among the Flames restricted free agents, he has also been out of action the longest. Kylington did not see any game action after the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, as the Flames acquired Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson, both of whom slotted in for the remainder of the regular season as well as the playoffs.
How the Flames can Deploy Kylington
Kylington meanwhile spent the off-season in Sweden, getting in lots of ice time and trying to refine his game in anticipation of the upcoming season. Although the Flames won’t have Gustafsson or Forbort this season, Kylington will be in a fight with newly signed Alex Petrovic and Nikita Nesterov for the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup. The player who does not make the cut will either end up on the Flames’ taxi squad (should there be one) or playing the season in Stockton.
Kylington does bring a few notable assets to the table. Most importantly perhaps, is his ability to play both sides. A left handed defenceman, Kylington has played on the right side through most of his development, and has spoken publicly about being happy playing either side.
On top of that, he is familiar with the Flames’ systems and gameplay. The coaches know him and know how to make it work with him. He seems to relish the opportunity to play, and seems willing and committed to take his game to the next level.
But in a lot of ways, Kylington is in a similar position to where Dillon Dube was at the beginning of last season: seemingly too good for the AHL, but somehow not good enough for the NHL. Kylington got into a career-high 48 NHL games last season, but was playing on the bottom pairing in a sheltered role. He averaged just 13.5 minutes per night and only had two minutes of powerplay time and two minutes of penalty kill time all season. Not a lot of trust in those roles for Kylington.
Looking at his stats
Then again, trust is earned. Ice time is earned by good performances. Digging into his advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Kylington posted a marginal 48.1% CF at 5v5, ahead of just Forbort, Gustafsson and Michael Stone. Not a great sign. Known for his smooth skating and offensive abilities, Kylington’s shot attempt numbers should be higher, and perhaps he can improve on his two goals from 2019-20. He was also on the ice for six more goals against than goals for, sitting just ahead of Forbort and Travis Hamonic.
While these numbers do not paint a pretty picture, it is worth remembering Kylington is just 23 years old, having not played a full season in the NHL yet. He still has time to prove himself to be a regular NHLer, and there are some very positive signs in his stats.
Kylington was tied with Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin for the lead in rush attempts by defenceman with five. He also drew eight penalties while on the ice, good for third among Flames defencemen. He also had 22 individual scoring chances for at 5v5. For reference, T.J. Brodie had 25 in 400 more minutes.
A big season up ahead
Kylington is quite clearly still growing into his own. He has some areas of his game where he needs to put in more work, but the signs are there that he can develop into an effective piece this year. At just under $800K this season, Kylington will be a cheap reliable option in either the sixth or seventh defence position.
With the shortened season and limitations on calling players up from the AHL, the Flames will likely rotate their rosters quite frequently to keep everyone fresh. To have a guy like Kylington, who is still developing, getting lots of game action is beneficial for the team. With both Petrovic and Nesterov much older than Kylington, they are both unlikely to get much better than they are now. The Flames’ best bet is to give Kylington as much opportunity as possible to improve, in order to ensure their defence remains solid for years to come.
How do you think Kylington will do this season? Let us know in the comments or on social media.
Photo credits: Jeff McIntosh/CP